Francis William Topham
Watercolor on paper
11.4 x 15. 75 in
Purchase, Various Donors, 2016
Francis Topham was born in Leeds and moved to London where he became a member of the Artists’ Society (Clipstone Street) comprising a group of artists devoted to a form of genre painting featuring rustic figures. When Topham accompanied Frederick Goodall and Alfred Fripp to Ireland in the mid 1840s, he encountered extremes of poverty and deprivation that exceeded anything staged in London. Real-life conditions in the Claddagh and Connemara, where Topham spent time, led to the production of some major works, including Gossips at a Well (London, Guildhall Art Gallery), The Holy Well (Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery) and At the Holy Well (Glasgow Art Gallery).
Feeding Chickens features the same humble dwelling as seen in one of Topham’s most exuberant Irish paintings, Saturday Evening in Connemara (1848) (Sheffield Museum), and the same girl seen here features in Chick! Chicks! (engraved for The Art Journal ). Although sentimental to our eyes, notwithstanding the tumbled cottages in the distance—evidence of mass evictions—the art critic, James Dafforne, perceived “nothing vulgar nor unpleasant in the poverty it depicts—it rather suggests the simplicity of lowly rural life than suffering or want.” (The Art Journal, February 1880). A father of 12, he had an affinity for painting women and children.